June 2011 Indie Next List
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Summer 2012 Reading Group
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"We have the intriguing possibility that the next great American author is already in print." —Fort Worth Star-Telegram
When Sheila McGann setsout to redeem her disgraced brother, a once-beloved Catholic priest in suburban Boston, her quest will force her to confront cataclysmic truths about herfractured Irish-American family, her beliefs, and, ultimately, herself. Award-winning author Jennifer Haigh follows hercritically acclaimed novels Mrs. Kimble and The Condition with a captivating, vividly rendered portrait of fraying family ties, and the trials of belief anddevotion, in Faith.
Praise For Faith: A Novel…
— Washington Post
“A masterpiece of tension and tenderness.”
— More magazine
“Luminous. . . . The novel has the magnetic, page-turning quality of a detective thriller, but the clues here lead not to objective proof but to insight into a family both vividly specific and astonishingly universal. . . . . Wise.”
— O magazine
“Haigh deals with complex moral issues in subtle ways, and her narrative is beautifully, sometimes achingly poignant.”
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“With an exquisite sense of drama and mystery, Haigh delivers a taut, well-crafted tale. . . . Indelibly rendered characters, suspenseful pacing, and fearless but sensitive handling of a controversial subject will make this a must-read for book discussion groups.”
— Booklist (starred review)
“Haigh’s fourth novel draws you in. . . . You’ll be hypnotized until you know where it stops.”
“FAITH is so emotionally rich, and its story so deftly delivered, that we’re absorbed.”
— Wall Street Journal
“Expertly wrought. . . . Ms. Haigh, a subtle, serious novelist who happens to have a flair for capturing troubled family dynamics, never allows FAITH to become predictable. . . . Gripping. . . . Substantial.”
— New York Times
Harper Perennial, 9780060755812, 352pp.
Publication Date: January 17, 2012
About the Author
Jennifer Haigh is the author of the short-story collection News from Heaven and four critically acclaimed novels: Faith, The Condition, Baker Towers, and Mrs. Kimble. Her books have won both the PEN/Hemingway Award for debut fiction and the PEN/L.L. Winship Award for work by a New England writer. Her short fiction has been published widely, in The Atlantic, Granta, The Best American Short Stories, and many other places. She lives in Boston.
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
For the epigraph, Jennifer Haigh uses two quotes, one involving sin, the other about living by the Rule. Explain what each quote refers to. How do these quotes reflect the novel’s themes?
What role does religion play in each of the family members’ lives? How do their religious beliefs—or lack of them—define who they are? Is religion a solace for the family or a burden? Are there sins or transgressions that are unforgivable?
How do you define faith? What does faith mean to each of the characters, especially the siblings, Art, Sheila, and Mike ? Is this a good title for the novel?
Describe the relationships between Sheila and her brothers. How do these siblings compare to each other? What defines their reaction to the scandal and to Art? What were their roles in Art’s story, and how did each of their outlooks and actions affect the other? How are each of the family members ultimately transformed by events?
Shelia remembers that as a child she saw her priest as “other than human, made of different stuff than the rest of us.” Explain what she means. Do you think that view still holds? How have societal views of priests—and other religious leaders—been affected by the abuse scandals? What role does the media play in shaping our views? What do the news stories leave out?
Many see doubt in negative terms. But can doubt strengthen our beliefs, our “faith”?
How would you describe Art? What did you think of him? Why did he become a priest? 8. Was he a good shepherd? Was he a good man? Did Art fail his faith or did faith fail him?
“Love to marriage to home and family: connect those dots, and you get the approximate shape of most people’s lives. Take them away, and you lose any hope for connection. You give up your place in the world.” Explain the meaning of Art’s words to Sheila. How does this reflect his own life? How does it reflect hers?
In sharing her brother’s past, Sheila reflects, “Art’s story is, to me, the story of my family, with all its darts and dodges and mysterious omissions.” What do the events of Art’s life reveal about the McGanns? What do they reveal about our own lives and modern society? What about the Catholic Church?
Shelia recalls that at the entrance of each building at the seminary where Art studied for the priesthood was carved the motto: Vigor in Arduis. “Strength Amid Difficulties.” Does this describe Art? What about Sheila and Mike? Would you consider those three words to be a good definition of faith?
Talk about Art’s relationship with Aidan Conlon and his mother, Kath. Why did Aidan affect Art so deeply? What about Kath? What were her feelings toward Art?
Talk about Mike’s relationship with Kath. How does it affect his impression of his brother? What is your opinion of Mike’s wife, Abby? As a non-Catholic what does she think of the McGanns, of their religious faith, and of Art?
Faith explores the dark and light of human nature: deception, belief, doubt, love, loyalty, compassion, anger, forgiveness., loneliness, the need for community, the desire for goodness. Choose one theme and trace it through the experiences of a character or two.
Do you think that faith—the adherence to conviction—is misunderstood in modern society? If the Church is a community of faith, what happens to the other when one begins to break down?
What did you take away from reading Faith?